Sunday, 16 May 2010

Returning to Mnweni

This weekend I returned to the beautiful Mnweni valley for my third Mnweni Marathon (2007 and 2008... I missed it last year), mountain and trail runner Bruce Arnett’s race.

Mnweni, in the Northern Drakensberg, is a 4h30 drive from Jo’burg. The campsite is superb and the circular race route is challenging. It starts from the community-project campsite and heads into the Mnweni valley, up the Mnweni Pass, across the top of the ‘Berg – in Lesotho and the source of the Orange River, down the treacherous Rockeries Pass and onto pleasantly runnable trails (from just before CP7) and then the road (from CP8) back to the campsite.
I thoroughly enjoy ascending the Mnweni Pass, taking delight in catching as many people as possible. I was hoping to better my previous best - a 7h50 in 2007, but due to a less desirable route (I have an affinity for crawling through vegetation...) across the river I lost at least 30 minutes. Although I tried to play catch up, I still ended up with my slowest time to date at 08h22. Bugger. Nonetheless, so much better to be playing the mountains than staying in Jo’burg for the weekend.

As for my less desirable route... I’ve worked it up on Google Earth below. There’s a newer ‘high’ path near CP3, as an alternative to the traditional ‘lower’ route that leads to crossing the Mnweni River. I decided to stick with the lower path, which I’ve taken before, aiming to cross higher up than previously. When the path fizzled, I – with two companions – ended up crossing lower down. Not a great route because it saw us ploughing through some bushes and onto the overgrown trail. If I’d crossed higher up where I’d initially wanted to, we would have hit the more used path. That’s where we lost time. Those on the higher path had an initial climb and then a runnable rote to a good crossing place much further up the valley – it definitely seems to be the way to go.

I blitzed the Mnweni Pass, enjoying the hard work. On top I met up with four other runners and thick mist. Quite fun playing in the mist. My GPS was up to its tricks, flipping the ‘Go To’ direction. Fortunately we didn’t detour too much – my gut got a funny feeling – making only a small doughnut. I recalibrated its compass, reset the ‘Go To’ and followed its flipped pointer to the trail leading down Rockeries.

Rockeries Pass is my least favourite part of the route. I’m skittish on the treacherously loose rocky trail. Glad to be at the bottom, I had the most fantastic run from the section of trail just before the CP7 river crossing and onto the CP8 road and home. The thick cloud, light mist and slight drizzle made for the most superb running conditions.

Bruce Arnett won in an enviable 5h15.

While I’m not often a repeat-offender entrant at races, I do really enjoy Mnweni. It’s relatively close to Jo’burg, I love being in the ‘Berg – a place, despite best intentions, I get to visit infrequently - and the race makes for a good one-day run. I’d like that 7h30 so I’ll probably be back next year.

What I really like about Mnweni Marathon is its simplicity. Sure, bells and whistles can be nice, but I like that the race has low entry numbers (<80) and no frills. It's an out-and-out mountain run - just the way I like it.

Bruce, Laura, Stephen and all your helpers - thank you for another super weekend.

Runners in the soft, peachy light of pre-sunrise

Leaving the dirt road at CP2 and on to trail; the start of the up, up, up. Sun not quite peeping over the horizon.

Playing catch-up after losing time, I had such fun going up Mnweni Pass, catching the little people ahead. The mist came in shortly after this to swirl all around us, diminishing visibility.

Looking back to the place where I took the previous photo. Although there's quite a bit of climbing from Chi-Chi Camp to this spot, 'X' is, for me, the 'true' start of Mnweni Pass.

My customary photo at the top of the Pass, with the Mnweni pinnacles in the 'background' (see the pic on my 2007 blog post taken at exactly the same spot)

I like donkeys. Trying to get close to the donkey without making him run away.

At the bottom of Rockeries with my companions met up top - Igno, Tania, Greg and Benedictus.

Sunday morning, from the campsite.


JAB said...

Great pictures! Well done! Those wonderful mountain vistas sure beat Jo'burg's urban sprawl & mine dumps!
From a Kiwi cousin of the legendary Rob Forbes!

adventurelisa said...

Heya JAB,

It was super to meet Rob. I took two super pics of him. Ran out of time last night but will be writing about him today so keep an eye on


Anonymous said...

Glad you had a blast Lisa, lovely to see you again, and thank you for the gaiters! (And the grand report!)
Happy trails

adventurelisa said...

Karen Addison has made a video of her adventures (1st Masters lady) - and I even get a camo appearance when I passed her going up Mnweni (white top, black shorts and my loud Salomon S-Labs).
Some lovely shots of the route and abundant vegetation. Lots of mist up top! It's on YouTube at . Title is 'Mweni Marathon in the Berg'.

adventurelisa said...

JAB, My pics and a bit on Rob is on at


Unknown said...

Enjoyed your article and pix. I loved the run on Saturday. Tried out the camera for the first time.I slipped on the trail down Rockeries Pass and put the camera away for safety. Pity.
See you next year.

Anonymous said...

The passionate but simple organisation, family concern and community spirit, self reliance and wilderness of the Mnweni Marathon capture the true essence of adventure and trail running. There need to be more like it.

Melvyn Quan said...

Hi Lisa

Forgot to thank you for the super mini-gaiters I got in the lucky draw! It's just what I've been looking for and look forward to trying them out.


adventurelisa said...

Yay! My pleasure. I hope you will enjoy them. I didn't know who got them - great to know they're in good hands (or would that be feet?).

Thanks for your note Melvyn - appreciated ;)

dangerous said...

Hey Lisa ,
I like your gooe map ; Yes the high road seems faster; the landmark is to go past the hut and through the gap in the fence ( there was a gate there 2 years ago ). The path then climbs steeply and the lower runners are clearly seen ; at this time you think it is the por option.
However there is great running ahead ; really fast on a path.

NB follow the path , it crosses the river and goes in the river bed 10 m below the other path.

sorry to leave you here this year. d